One year ago, around the time of Christmas, there was tension in the country. The people were about to vote in a presidential election which would decide the destiny of the country, one way or the other. Today, one year later, we are celebrating Christmas and enjoying the festive season without any of these tensions.
A few weeks from now we will see President Maithripala Sirisena complete one year in office. The anniversary will no doubt prompt many to step back and assess. Promises made will be re-visited. The achievements will be listed. The tasks not attended to or those over which there was palpable stumbling will be noted. These analyses will be coloured by political loyalties. The more detached commentators will consider the contexts and their changing nature. Priorities as well as available resources will be factored in. In any event it is a necessary exercise for both the analyser and the analysed.
Many have called the 8th of January victory of Maithripala Sirisena over Mahinda Rajapaksa a revolution. This choice of word has been inspired no doubt by the popularity despite the dictatorial style that the ex President enjoyed and also the distinct advantages of being an incumbent. Some of those advantages were from the Constitution and some from amendments to the same which he got Parliament to pass, clearly using his executive powers. There was also the will to abuse state resources over and above the general intimidation of opponents that had become normal for those in power, especially the executive president. Considering the odds, therefore, ‘revolution’ was a legitimate word to use.
However, as history has shown many times, whether or not a revolution has indeed taken place has to be judged by the transformations that have taken place or have not as the case may be. New wine in old bottles does not go with the word revolution. It takes a lot of effort to overhaul a corrupt or inefficient system; a lot more than a change at the top even if it is supported by putting new faces in place of the old. Also, such change has to be supported by active participation of the people. They have to push and they too have to pull their weight.
In short it was an ambitious task from Day One. Expectations were naturally high. Skill did not always match enthusiasm. The resilience of the system, perhaps more than those who resented or wanted to throw spanners in the wheels, surprised many. The people were impatient at times, but at times understanding. As always promises tended to be inflated versions of what was deliverable. Priorities and challenges saw certain areas being neglected. Lack of human resources was always going to be a problem. Mistakes would be and indeed were made. Some of it was of course forgivable, but there would be critics who would be unforgiving.
In assessing the first year of what might be called the Post-Mahinda Era, we have to take all this into account. However, if it was about transforming a system for the better, then it is best to see how actions (or inaction) could impact the long-term (of the country) rather than the day-to-day lives of people.
To quickly go through the short-term elements, there will be complaints about the cost of living. We also saw protests regarding certain elements of the budget. It must be understood that Sri Lanka is tied to a global economy and that the larger processes have been marked by one financial crisis moving to another. There are external factors that we can do little or nothing about. It must be said however that hard decisions have to be made. Short term sacrifice is often necessary for long term gain. If the sacrifices are unbearable and people protest against some of the harsh measures, then Governments have to consider their voices. This was done in this instance. It should not be seen as a weakness but as a strength. This has to be appreciated. Economists will be able to and should look at the final version of the budget that Parliament passes and assess if indeed it is reasonable to hope that the country would be somewhere close to where the Finance Minister promises to take it come the 1st of January 2017.
There is displeasure in some circles about perceived slowness in bringing to book people who have perpetrated financial fraud. It was expected that a lot of high ranking persons in the previous regime would be put behind bars immediately after President Maithripala Sirisena took office. That this did not happen might be frustrating but then again when the wheels move too fast justice can get derailed. If change was what was wanted, the old ways cannot be used to get desired results. The Rule of Law has to prevail and not be maneuvered politically.
In terms of one aspect of the ‘short-term’ there can be no doubt. There is a sense of freedom to oppose that was almost non-existent during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure. There is a greater faith in the institutions of justice. The consequent relief is palpable. Of course, one must not forget that it was during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure that the other great fear, terrorism, was defeated. Some would say that things actually got worse after that. In any event the defeat of terrorism did not see a consecration of the Rule of Law. Rather, that aspect got worse. The 8th of January result gave hope to people that this would get corrected. Even before the independent institutions were set up, a healthier environment was created in this respect.
The political grouping that led to President Sirisena’s victory and the National Government that was formed after the General Election on the 17th of August are both marked with the term ‘Good Governance’ or in common parlance ‘Yahapalanaya’. That was an election promise that has since become an identifier, if not for the substance of what’s happened over the past 12 months for the constant use of the term. In political terms the importance is that it refers to structural and therefore more sustainable changes that makes ‘revolution’ a legitimate term.
The 100 Days Programme was very clear about constitutional change. The 19th Amendment would help re-democratize Sri Lanka. Some interpreted Maithripala Sirisena’s manifesto as a promise to abolish the executive presidency. The 19th pruned some of the powers. More importantly it won back a lot of ground lost in the passage of the 18th Amendment, especially the Constitutional Council and independent commissions covering a wide range of spheres. The purpose was to allow institutions and officials to act without bending to the will of politicians, but guided only by well established rules and regulations. It took more than 100 days to institute the Constitutional Council, but it was done. It took more than 100 days to establish the independent commissions, but it was done. The benefits will of course be seen later than sooner, but one thing is clear: the way things get done in the country will no longer depend on the whims and fancies of the powerful. Men and women of integrity will ensure that established procedures will be followed.
The 20th Amendment, that of changing the electoral system, was to be passed within the first 100 days of President Sirisena’s term. It is disappointing that this did not happen. However, the idea has not been abandoned. Since the independent Delimitation Commission has been established we can expect greater movement in this regard. The same can be said of the Right to Information Act, which is a key piece of the puzzle to democratize Sri Lanka. It hasn’t yet seen the light of day, but the signs say that it will come up very soon. The most important aspect of these initiatives is that it helps create a level playing field where even the architects do not enjoy any special advantages.
The work, however, is not complete. We are almost a year into this ‘revolution’, but we have to see the year that has passed as well as the several years to come as the gestation period. The cement of democracy must harden and this takes time. It requires that we do not disturb the mortar by straying into it carelessly. The leaders must be cautious and the citizens must be patient. Most importantly, those who are serious about real change have to make informed choices every step of the way that supports not detracts from those forces committed to and capable of seeing the reform process to the end.
As things stand, even the most ardent supporter of the ‘National Government’ would have to admit that we are yet to get the political stability necessary for sustained structural reform. In any given political context a coalition of the two main parties comes with tensions and generates uncertainty. We can debate the merits and demerits of the decisions which brought us to where we are now, but we can safely say we are on the correct track. Also, we can say that with all the tensions and uncertainty, and despite the push and pull of political forces within the constituent parties of the ruling coalition, the leaders have succeeded in instituting important changes. We already mentioned the 19th Amendment and the independent commissions.
The problem is that in these teething-years we need an enlightened and politically secure stewardship. It is hard to predict the course of politics in a democracy that has unfortunately been crippled to fledgling status. President Sirisena is walking a tight rope as leader of a party that actually campaigned against him. The still considerable powers vested in his office will guarantee that he retains control of reins tight enough to stop his party from pulling in different directions and thereby compromising his ability to maintain the integrity of the coalition government. It is important that he has this power because this alone can ensure the two-thirds parliamentary majority necessary for the passage of important constitutional amendments. The hopeful will assume as they should that he will keep the SLFP afloat, so to speak, at least until constitutional errors are corrected.
President Sirisena has maintained that he will be a one-term President. Also, he pledged at the funeral of Ven Madoluwawe Sobitha Thero, that he will see to it that the executive presidency is abolished. The President’s credibility rests on doing this immediately. If he waits until the tail-end of his term it might be interpreted as a move designed to obtain political advantage and not as an act by a statesman. Whether he will retire from politics at the end of his term is something President Sirisena will have to decide. If electoral reforms are instituted, then in a context where executive power returns to a Cabinet headed by the Prime Minister, it is imperative that the reins of power is with someone who has the vision and the ability to oversee this delicate period where the country progresses to a fully fledged democracy built on the solid foundation of constitutional guarantees and insured by a citizenry that can no longer be kept in the dark because key information cannot be withheld.
It is considering all of the above that we have to speak of the Leader of the United National Party, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. It has been argued that it would have been difficult to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa had he and not Maithripala Sirisena contested. Indeed, it is hard to claim that he most definitely would have attracted some 200,000 SLFP votes that he would have needed to pip the incumbent. However, no one can deny that his decision to back Sirisena was decisive. Despite objections or at least displeasure from certain quarters of his party, Wickremesinghe continued to back the President’s reform agenda after the 8th of January. It could also be said that he played a lead role and not a supportive one in this regard. In the very least it can be said that while the direction given by the President was crucial, as important was the backing he received from the UNP, support which Wickremesinghe and no one else was capable of securing.
Wickremesinghe, in a changed political climate, led the UNP to its first major election win in over 10 years. He failed to deliver a majority but in hindsight, considering the need to work with the President to get the parliamentary arithmetic right for reform, coming up short can be seen as a blessing in disguise. Had he not been interested in reform and was instead playing for personal or even party stakes, he could easily have engineered the defection of the number of MPs needed to get 113 seats in Parliament. He did not. This shows both political maturity and statesmanship. He promised to help the President form a coalition government and kept his part of the bargain. He would have known that the discoloration that the SLFP underwent during the previous regime would inevitably taint this coalition government. He would have known and if not he would know now that part of the blame for the inevitable errors of the tried-and-failed would be placed at his door. He has, however, put reform ahead of all else. That alone shows his commitment to a different Sri Lanka with a different political and institutional arrangement.
It has to be understood that he is batting on a nasty wicket. Quite apart from not being in absolute control of the political equation, Wickremesinghe is hampered by the fact that he doesn’t have the kind of support cast that J R Jayewardena for example had in 1977. He has a bits-and-pieces team capable of the odd cameo but certainly not ‘Test’ material, to use a cricketing metaphor. On the other hand now that he is Prime Minister, he has been saved all the headaches of intra-party rivalry. To date he has not shown any vindictiveness. In fact he has given the one man who contested him for the party leadership, Karu Jayasuriya, an all-important role. As Speaker, Jayasuriya is also an ex-officio member of the Constitutional Council and most importantly its Chairman. Wickremesinghe has placed his trust on Jayasuriya’s proven abilities here and recognized the role Jayasuriya played in the victory of a democratic and democratizing concept developed largely by Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero. Jayasuriya coordinated these efforts. It’s a good and encouraging sign.
Most importantly, Wickremesinghe seems to have understood that he alone cannot bring about change. He could give direction and probably is the only person with vision, power and stature that we have at this point to lead this drive. However, he needs to work with his party as well the other major political formation, the SLFP or a coalition led by the SLFP. He has shown an admirable willingness to take the bi-partisan path, putting aside all that he had to suffer at the hands of the SLFP or rather the SLFP-led regimes over the past 21 years.
We are not out of the woods yet. We need a road map and we need the courage to walk a difficult path where light at the end of the tunnel is so dim that it is barely visible. As things stand, Ranil Wickremesinghe appears to be the one individual who has a map and has the will to walk the talk, at least until the cement dries to the point that the foundation laid on the 8th of January can hold a sturdy democratic edifice. It must be mentioned that despite accusations by opponents of being “Pro-West” Wickremesinghe is the only Prime Minister who has graduated from a Sri Lankan university. He is not a chest-thumping nationalist, but his record shows that he is a logical and not an emotional leader who has the country’s interests at heart.
All things considered we are still in the infant days of reform and that’s inevitable, as we argued above. Infancy is a time of great vulnerability. All the more reason for patience.
The coalition is still intact, but no one will bet on it gelling into a single, solid political entity. Wickremesinghe, as the most senior politician in the country, the most experienced leader and the one individual who has vision and political will, has an unenviable task ahead of him. He has many easy ways out. He can be just another ruler and be successful too in terms of securing power for his party and himself. That will not make history remember him as a statesman. He has to take the difficult path and has to convince the people that it is for everyone’s benefit. That would be his challenge in the coming months.
Wow / December 22, 2015
A very biased and stupid article. Has no purpose or meaning other than kissing Ranil’s ass
gamini / December 22, 2015
One of MR’s donkeys braying for his supper still.
HeartClean / December 24, 2015
for me, Ranil is the most respectful person in lanken politics of today.
How he had been attacked by Rajapakshes and OTHER men in the country during last few years alone – were not forgotten to anyone. But this gentle men never took them as serious. He always believed to be right. Law and order was above his soul – even if some cases in the past were reported him to have involved, but by listening his speeches or analyses, I feel today, he is like a western politician. Alone today s course of politics in the country, he seems to leave no space to treat any parties in favour of them.
Alone the budget issues, he was not that stubborn not to hear the voices of people. Amendments were suggested by him – even if JVP and Criminal supporter gang of Rajapakshes attack the budget, in a situiaton like today, RW has mastered situiaton so good. Had MR been reelected, surely, we would have ended up with all difficulties in and out of the country.
And not to forget, entire Europe, America, Asian countries have a greater respect on MY3 and RW combination than MR and UPFA. MR is no welcome in UK. He had his corners were -Swaziland, Belarus, Lybia,China.
Today, China, India, USA, Russia AND entire europe would not criticise RW & My3 policies.
Samarasekera / December 22, 2015
Super article. I found it very interesting and balanced. The writer has taken lot of things into consideration and that should be appreciated.
The truth is we don’t have anyone else apart from RW until someone emerge.
Dr. Thomas / December 22, 2015
Compliments, excellent opinioned article
Siri / December 22, 2015
Yes, it’s absolutely true and real fact that no one is there right now to take the country to the next level other than Ranil.
My3 and Ranil are great leaders, and along with their team, they would move forward the country and get the resultant good fortunes to the people.
It all shown in the way they work with every one. They are not arrogant, show off and vindictive. They are more into the country and people than to their selves. They care, entertain and heed to every one’s advise and opinion when they want to take important decisions for the good of the country and people.
With all the odds and challenges on their path, slowly and surely, they are delivering the good results.
In years we found and got two great leaders to take the country forward, and it’s our duty to help them to get a better country for all.
harry hatton / December 23, 2015
These may be Mr.Cooray’s views. I think very mediocre views and maybe self serving
Rizwan / December 23, 2015
Mr. Cooray’s glowing words of the current regime discredits the article published in Lankanewsweb titled “Krishantha Cooray removed from Mobitel director board” (search google).
Thank you Mr. Cooray for the balanced article.
Funlover / December 23, 2015
Very good lollipopping. VGL.
Ranasinghe / December 24, 2015
Very good article by a a person who seems to have a very good understanding about what’s happening in the country.
I think it’s a very balance article that makes you realize we are actually making progress.
Nobody in the UNP talks about the Leader and hopefully in 2016 other MPs will also appreciate the leader.
Good article and thank you
Fathima Fukushima / December 24, 2015
Unless Muslim marginalization in the government top ministries is fixed soon, this government is not going anywhere.
Muslims have been forgotten since 2014 by both Mahinda and Maithiripala governments.
All Sri Lanka’s friends are Muslim countries. A Muslim can do many good as foreign minister. Hameed was the best.
samba / December 24, 2015
“”All Sri Lanka’s friends are Muslim countries.”
So halal meat meat might be on your menu everyday at sL.
BBS loves you Fathima Fukushima.
How many kids are you prepared to produce??
Upul / December 25, 2015
The writer has done justice to RW using facts and that should be appreciated. RW is the only hope but sadly he does not seem to have a proper team. I really enjoyed reading the article because the writer has presented his argument extremely well. I will be forwarding this article to friends.
Kamal / December 26, 2015
Very good article on RW. Enjoyed reading a well written article. I learnt a lot from this article. Thanks CT for publishing this article.
Senaka / December 27, 2015
I fully agree with the writer that Ranil is the only hope. Sirisena has the potential of becoming worse than MR. After talking about nepotism he is slowly getting his family involved.
It is unfortunate that people of this country does not appreciate Ranil who is the only leader we have with a vision.
Krishantha Cooray has brilliantly articulated Ranil’s strengths. After a long time I read a sensible article. Hope this was published in the newspapers as well. It will be great if someone can translate this article.
Michael / December 28, 2015
Excellent article. I wish everyone who thinks that Ranil can be undermined should read this article. The LTTE killed all our leaders and now the only leader we have is Ranil. The sooner we understand it the better.
The writer has gone into detail to explain the present situation and I fully endorse his views. My only criticism is that he is not exposing the duplicity of the President properly. Today MS has become a big joke. Unless he allows Ranil to run the show we will not make any head way.
Prasanna / December 28, 2015
Thanks Mr. Cooray for the article. I totally agree with your views on the Ranil factor and I have been an active social media campaigner on bringing about this positive change ‘Ranil only can do it’. The government has made very good progress. The people are living in freedom, media is hyperactive and not afraid anymore, public outcries are listened and not SUPPRESSED like MR etc… I sincerely believe that this change is largely due to the UNP leader and PM Ranil making key policy decisions. This is a wonderful turnaround for the country. Ranil and his united national party team have driven the country to this level in just 3 months I would say and positives are still waiting in the lines over the next 5 years. Unfortunately though this is a national government which Gamarala wanted from the very outset. Hence Gamarala along with the SLFP portion (Ministers) within the government are trying to gain credit for the positives and deflect negatives towards the UNP. As a well read person I can clearly understand that the SLFP is just good enough to keep media conferences and gain credit. They can do absolutely nothing ! There mouths were pasted with stickers during MR and now all of a sudden they claim as if this change was due to them. Absolute rubbish ! Look at Dilan, Amaraweera, Rilasiri .. they are going havock and without any bit of shame try to claim all credit and pass on negatives to the UNP. Mr. Cooray – I am expecting an article from you highlighting this, since if we let these hooligans carry on with these stupid comments the public opinion would shift and in power the SLFP can do nothing as in the last 20 years.
Dilshan / December 30, 2015
I enjoyed reading this article. It’s a very objective piece written by someone who seems to know what he is talking about.
People are having very high expectations from Ranil and now its his turn to deliver. He has to be more assertive. I agree with Krishantha Cooray that Ranil is the only hope. Sirisena has done his part but he is no visionary. His family will destroy him and he should be aware of it.
Only CT carries articles of this nature and as a reader I am very thankful
Palitha / December 30, 2015
I am not a admirer of Ranil because he does not have a great track record but after reading this article I was asking my self whether I am wrong in my opinion about him. It’s a very thought provoking article and I hope newspapers and other websites will give space to this article. The writer seems to be sincere in his attempt to make people understand the reality.
It’s a bit too long but a great piece.
Namini / December 30, 2015
Thanks for a beautifully written article. This article should be forwarded to all RW critics. Appreciate the writers courage to write something that might not be popular but factually true. In the coming year Ranil should take some strong decisions and sack people like Ravi Karunanaya who is a disaster as finance minister. Ravi and Sajith have made no contribution. People like Harsha, Eran Sujeeva should be given the due place in the party. Kabir Hasheem should be made the finance minister. Ranil’s downfall will be no one but Ravi Karunanayaka.
wimala / December 31, 2015
Thank you Mr Cooray for this very well written article. Look forward for more such articles in the future.